We sat, crammed in the back of the Jeepnee, a truck-like form of public transportation. Our heads grazing the roof of the vehicle bouncing along as we inhaled exhaust. We had no idea where we were or how long the drive would take to and it was nearly impossible to see out of the windows as we weaved in and out of Manila, the city that defined “traffic jams.” The stench that wafted through the open aired truck was our clue, we had arrived.
We toppled out into filth. As our senses adjusted to our surroudings we saw a stampede of children running from every direction to greet us. Dirty hands grabbing at every square inch of our skin. There was no denying that we had made it, we were surrounded by the trash cities of Manila, some of the dirtiest places in the world to live.
We joined the Pastor and his Church for Sunday morning worship and a teaching on Baptism. It was a glimpse of heavenly places, all languages coming together as one to cry out praise unto the Lord.
After Church we prepared for a feeding in a trash community called “Happy Place,” an ironic name to say the least. All I saw was despair, disease, sewage and sorrow. How could this place be called happy? The children came running, barefooted, as they sloshed through sewage so toxic it was bubbling to eat what might be their only clean meal of the week.
I walked around, sweat dripping from my face, tears falling from my eyes. My whole body was weeping with the Lord’s heart. This filthy life.
Their homes were built with nothing more than cardboard boxes, bags of plastic bottles establishing walls between them. Flies swarmed around faces of little ones as they dug through piles of leftover scraps searching for any source of nourishment. This place was anything but happy.
Little hands fell into mine, the filth staining my skin. They left a trail everywhere they went, dirt transferred from their little bodies to ours.
It doesn’t make sense; how people so desperate can live so fully and how those whose lives seem so full can be so desperate.
I just kept walking through the trash strewn paths, wondering through the makeshift alleys when the Father brought me here:
“On the day you were born, no one cared about you, your cord was not cut and you were not wrapped in a cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pited or cared for you. On the day you were born you were unwated, dumped and left to die. But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own filth. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel. Your body became full but you were still naked. And when I passed by again, I saw that you were ready for love. So I wrapped my cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you, says the soverign Lord, and you became mine. Then I bathed you and washed off your filth, I rubbed frangant oils into your skin, dressed you in splendor and perfected your beauty.” (Ezekiel 16)
This “Happy Place” is Redemption.
I looked around at these naked little ones and watched as the Father tenderly washed away their stench. I saw Him rubbing off each stain with living water, beauty overcoming their filth.
Oh what a good, good Father.
He was remindng me here–admist this filth–of tangible Redemption.
He has brought us from rubbish into the richenss of His splendor. He used this place to remind me of His grace. He was showing me how sin can stain and become unrecognizable. How it can taint the lives of those around us, rubbing off and onto them, but also of how this filthy life becomes a “happy place.”
How perfect that today was the message of Baptism, a cleansing in Love and shower of grace.
These little ones with their hungry bellies and naked bodies are His. OH how He sees their filth, His presence fills the trash heaps they call homes and resides there. His love has bathed them–has bathed us and washed us clean.
These dirty little ones are His beloved, sin stained, sloshing through sewage, dirt steaking down their faces–are his beautiful beloved children.
And so are we.
I’m so thankful we have a Father who doesn’t leave us abandoned in our own filth but picks us up, speaks life into our bones and fills us with His beauty.